Revisiting Efficiency and Carmelo Anthony

The analysis of the quality of shots Carmelo Anthony attempts compared to some of the other elite offensive swingmen in the league garnered quite a bit of attention and also quite a bit of feedback from readers.

First of all, I would like to simply clarify what I was attempting to convey.  The efficiency with which Carmelo Anthony scores is lower than expected for a player of his skill level to the point people are beginning to question his ability.  Based on my observations the gap between Carmelo and other players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant is his propensity to attempt a larger percentage of challenged shots than his fellow star scorers.

I believe I accomplished that through my study, but it was a limited and very basic look at a complex subject.  Because of that I wanted to address some of the questions and comments that were posed to me.

Ian:  Instead of a few selected games why not take the entire season and playoffs in that way the results are more statistically correct and valid?

I would have loved to provide a more complete study, but if I had my staff of me, myself and I look at any more games than the 60 I observed the post would not be up until the All-Star break.  Because I could not look at a full season that is why I attempted to quasi-randomly select a group of games which approximated the subjects’ regular season percentages.

Chronz:  The statistics youve chosen (% of made shots), this isnt the best measure of efficiency and are obviously going to favor Melo over Durant because Durant takes alot of 3′s why not show us their eFG% in open shot situations?

roslololian:  nice effort to make an analysis but your omission of 3′s and Fts make it useless , and in some cases actually make your reader more ignorant than before.

I completely agree that eFG% would have been a better gage of what we are attempting to study here, but again, it simply comes down to how much time I had to put into the research.  My goal was certainly not to increase ignorance.

As far as omitting free throws and three pointers, I fully intended to mention how free throws and three point shooting, particularly Carmelo’s lack of three point accuracy, play a role in efficiency.

I did a little more analysis of free throw shooting and three point shooting and decided to create a new stat called conversion percentage.  It may very well be useless, but I think it can help shed some light on how free throws and threes play a role in efficiency.

Conversion rate combines the number of times a player takes a free throw or three point shot relative to field goal attempts and then multiplies that number by the rate at which they make those shots.  For example, Carmelo Anthony attempted .407 free throws per field goal attempt and he made his free throws at a rate of 83.0%.  If you multiply his free throws per field goal attempt by his free throw percentage you get a conversion rate of .338 which means for every field goal Carmelo attempts, he makes .338 free throws.  I expected to see Carmelo rate highly in free throw conversation rate as he is successful at getting to the line and he made a good percentage of his attempts, better than LeBron, Wade and Kobe.  However as you see below, Melo is towards the bottom of the group due to his lower number of free throws per field goal attempt.

jr15:  What about accounting for the times when Melo gets hacked when he drives to the rim and doesn’t get a call?

There has been plenty of documentation about how the Nuggets free throw per field goal attempt rate dropped precipitously after George Karl took his leave which would have made a negative impact on his efficiency.  John Hollinger pointed out that Carmelo’s free throw rate was .462 on March first, but only .304 from that point through the end of the regular season.  If we use the .462 figure for Carmelo his free throw conversion rate increases to 0.383.  That would not increase his overall points per possession by much, but it does put him on par with LeBron and behind only Martin and Durant.

We can calculate conversion rate for three point shots as well by dividing the number of three point attempts by field goal attempts and then multiplying that figure by the player’s three point accuracy.

While Carmelo dropped off from his career high of converting 37.1% of his three point shots to 31.6% in 2009-10, he was right in the same range as LeBron (33.3%), Kobe (32.9%), Wade (30.0%) and even Martin (33.3%) he attempted fewer three pointers per field goal than the others did which is a big part of three point conversion rate.  However, it does display the fact that Carmelo benefits less from the three point line than the other five players in our study.

These conversion rates indicate that Carmelo falls slightly behind the other five players in efficiency when it comes to free throws and three pointers.  However, the best way for Carmelo to increase his efficiency would be to seek better shot attempts.  Hopefully, he will also see his free throw rate climb back to where it was prior to Karl’s departure and his three point shooting will approach his career high from two seasons ago.  If so, both of those factors will hinder his accuracy far less.

As long as I am discussing changes I also would have loved to chart location on all of these shots as well as an open dunk is obviously a more valuable attempt than an open 20 footer, but once again that would have increased the amount of time I spent on this project, which was already significant.

Zebulon:  Wade is an incredible passer, and his ability and willingness to attack the basket creates tons of open looks for the rest of his team. Wade is also a great defender and above average rebounder for his position, both of which are not true of Carmelo. Carmelo really only has one above average ability – scoring. Everywhere else he is average or below average.

You are absolutely correct.  I have noted here previously that Carmelo does not make his teammates better even though he has the ability to do so.  Carmelo fails to live up to his contemporaries in more areas than points per possession.

Big Meech:  You say you’ve watched all of Melo’s games then you should know that teams play defense different against Melo than they do “other superstars” in the league. They put Melo’s defender all in his chest then they bring over the point guard from the top and the big man on Melo’s right side so it’s like a zone just when Melo have the ball. If those “other superstars” was better than Melo at scoring why do those players get a lot of 1on1 coverage?

You are absolutely right Big Meech.  I pointed out how defenders lay off of Wade and LeBron because they want them to shoot jumpers.  I did not comment on how differently Carmelo is played because I have written about it before (here is a video where I show the Lakers doing exactly what you describe skip forward to the 4:10 mark) and I try to post all original content all the time, but there are certainly things that bear repeating and it would have certainly been appropriate to discuss how Carmelo is defended here.  I have written before that I do not think any player gets as much defensive attention as Carmelo.  He certainly never gets any space to operate when he has the ball.  I believe Carmelo himself and the coaching staff bear the blame for that as Melo clearly wants the ball on the right wing and the offense is not geared to doing much else for him.  Every time Carmelo does something he is doing into the teeth of the defense.  That is not a good recipe for efficiency.

Another interesting point that was made by someone, I cannot seem to find it as I attempt to wrap this post up, was that maybe Carmelo does not get open shots because he is not good enough to gain separation.  There may be something to that as Melo is not an explosive athlete on the level of a James or Wade.  Melo does have a very good first step though and he is able to gain separation both by getting to the rim as well as pulling up off the dribble.  I believe the issue is mindset and scheme more than any lack of athleticism or ability, but we will get into that in a bit.

There was a very good post by Zach Lowe, formerly of TrueHoop Network bloc Celtics Hub, who runs the new Sports Illustrated blog The Point Forward that expanded on the data I compiled.  Zach points out how Carmelo is increasingly doing things on his own.

We all know the classic Anthony bad shot: He catches the ball on the right wing with his defender in front of him, takes a couple of jab steps and launches a 20-footer. He also tends to drive into traffic at the rim, resulting in a lot of blocked shots and a declining shooting percentage on in-close field-goal attempts, according to Hoopdata. There’s also this: In 2006-2007, about 59 percent of Anthony’s baskets came as the result of teammate assists, according to Hoopdata. In 2007-2008, that figure was about the same: 58 percent.

But something started to happen in 2008-2009, when just 48 percent of Anthony’s buckets came after teammate assists, and that figure dropped to 41.6 percent last season.  That’s still much higher than assisted-on rates for guys like LeBron and Wade, but those two are essentially point guards who create for themselves and others. Anthony has a point guard — Billups — who should be able to create looks for him. Overall, Denver’s offense ranked 20th in team-assist rate.

Lowe also links to a post by Kevin Arnovitz on TrueHoop, as did commenter Zebulon, during the series against the Jazz last spring where Arnovitz points out to Adrian Dantley the Nuggets were demolishing the Jazz on pick and rolls.  Dantley responds that they have informed the players of that, but the players simply were not following the advice preferring to run their “random offense.”

For years dating back to when Allen Iverson first came to Denver, it has been obvious that the Nuggets have had players who could get their own shot, but why waste the energy of being isolated and then attacking a set defense who is simply waiting to engulf you?  Movement and passing make things easier for everyone.  Instead of learning to rely on his teammates, Carmelo seems to increasingly be relying on himself.  That is the opposite of growth and does not bode well for the prospect of Carmelo making the necessary adjustments to become a more efficient and effective player.

In conclusion I will say that I found it intriguing that different readers came to different conclusions based on the data I presented.  Some looked at it as an indictment of Carmelo as proof he is not an elite player, others saw it as a failure on behalf of the coaching staff and others saw it as a validation of Carmelo’s talent.

In my mind the correct result of this admittedly simplistic study is Carmelo is an elite talent, but as is the case with all aspects of his game, he has not figured out how to convert his considerable ability into a dominating presence at both ends of the court and the clock is ticking.

  • Alex

    I appreciate the work you accomplished with just a one man crew. As much as I don’t want to see Carmelo leave, do you think it’s possible that he won’t take that next step until there is either a major revamping of the coaching staff and offensive/defensive systems, or until he changes teams. Melo always played well at the Olympics and WCs with D’Antoni on the staff. I think it would be fascinating watching him in D’Antoni’s system.

  • Jonathan Tate

    His play against the Trailblazers was an classic example of the difficult contested shots he settles for. Most of them were from a lack of effort to get a better shot. He can do better than jab step Roy a few times, dribbling twice and then shooting a 18 footer with a hand right in his release.

    It’s really not in his makeup to strike a balance. If he’s going good, he’s going to keep on shooting and try to recapture the magic of a 20+ point quarter. If he’s struggling, he’s going to keep on shooting, having confidence that he’s going to catch fire eventually. Lost is the necessity to create for your teammates.